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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > World War II > Hollywood's Top Secret Film Studio (Documentary)

Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio (Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Film: B+



Is it really that hard to be efficient in running a movie studio?  When you hear how badly the major studios handle their back catalogs and only just now in recent years started to take care of their libraries, it is really bad.  The National Football League, who has enough respect for itself and franchise to still shoot all games on film no matter what video formats exist, takes immediate care of their archive by repairing damaged footage and restoring it immediately.  What if the studio and archive are top secret?  This occasionally crossed my mind when watching the remarkable story told by Peter Kuran’s documentary film Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio (2003), one of the best of many great films he has logged to date.


This one covers the full-fledged studio the United States Military had to establish once The Manhattan Project led to the first nuclear bombs.  The idea was to have a visual record in every way, shape and form in a way in which the most information could possibly be recorded and learned from.  This not only led to many innovations in filmmaking techniques and the development of stocks that benefit Kodak and its few competitors to this day, but likely caused a decrease of testing because the group of men assembled were so skillful, bold, brave and talented that their work is still yielding priceless dividends for us all.


They even tried out new frame formats to see if they could capture images differently.  One is reminded of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), which shows the impossibility of recording a nuclear holocaust, but these filmmakers probably captured the majority of possible things you could see prior to that.  Peter Kuran is incredible in pulling off very rich works that cover a ton of territory in a short space.  This is one of his best, among many vital works that should all be seen and cherished.  Hope he makes more soon.


The image is 1.33 X 1 full frame throughout, except within the program and in the supplement where the CinemaScope nuclear short is shown.  Too bad it is not anamorphic, but this all looks pretty good under the circumstance, for all the work that was done to restore it.  The original film needs more work, but this is a step forward just the same.  The Dolby Digital sound is here in 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo sound, but the 5.1 fares better.  Too bad the actual archive films were not originally stereo, but the sound has been cleaned up as well as can be expected.  Extras include five “slide” photo sections: image gallery, mushroom gallery, filmmakers in action, paratronic images and the secret studio tour.  Also included is the “digital restoration” of segments of the archival footage, and Lookout Mountain Laboratory Shot Number 12 in CinemaScope: A Daylight Tower Shot – 1955.  The latter is a good short on one of the endless tests that were done in formats other than the usual 1.33 X 1 16mm or 35mm film stocks.  We are told that they even experimented with VistaVision in the main program.  You also get trailers for all the Goldhil DVDs with the Atomic theme, all five of which we have reviewed elsewhere on this site, isolated music score by tracks and those films repeated in a frame dubbed “about VCE.”  You can go to www.goldhil.com and order any of them.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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